|West German poster|
USA title: Mission Stardust
German title: Pery Rhodan SOS aus dem Weltall (SOS From the Universe)
Director: Primo Zeglio
Producer: Ernst Ritter von Theumer
Screenplay: Kurt Vogelmann Sergio Donati & Primo Zeglio
Based on the novels by Clark Darlton
Special effects: Antonio Margheriti
Italy/ Spain/ West Germany/ Monaco
Production Companies: Produzioni Europee Associati (OEA), Theumer Film, Aitor Films
The Stardust crew R-L: Flipper (Daniel Martín), Perry Rhodan (Lang Jeffries),
Mike Bull (Luis Dávila) and Dr. Manoli (Joachim Hansen). West German lobby card.
Astronauts Major Perry Rhodan (Lang Jeffries), Mike Bull (Luis Dávila), Flipper (Daniel Martín) and Dr. Manoli (Joachim Hansen) are heading to the moon aboard the highly secretive Stardust. So secret that a press conference is held prior to lift off, but some information seems to have been withheld, merely fuelling the curiosity of those in attendance. Take off goes smoothly and soon our intrepid heroes are flying through outer space in their model rocket. Meanwhile, back on Earth, evil, dog-stroking megalomaniac Arkin (Pinkas Braun) is plotting next to the pool of his luxury hideout. Thanks to an inside man, Arkin discovers that the real reason for Stardust's trip is to explore the possibility that below the dusty surface lie "small deposits of an almost pure metal which has an atomic density much greater than either cobalt or lithium... This metal is incredibly valuable."
When attempting a landing on the moon something goes wrong with both their controls and their communications, cutting off all contact with mission control. Somehow a safe landing is made, and the moon rover vehicle is lowered to the surface. They decide to split up, with Mike and Perry heading over to the Earth side of the moon so they can try to re-establish contact, whilst the doctor and Flipper remain in the rocket. Once Perry and Mike are in place they extend the arial, only within seconds it glows red hot and the circuits short out, as does the vehicle controls. They step out of the vehicle and it disappears before their eyes. They do not seem too overwhelmed by this increasing weirdness, perhaps being seasoned astronauts accustomed to outer space oddities.
Suddenly, in an adjacent crater they spot an unusually large, spherical space craft and go to check it out. Following an altercation with a robot who shoots lasers from his eye (through the glass of its helmet), they are taken up via an elevator tube to the interior of the spacecraft, where they meet the sickly looking Crest (John Karlsen) and the mesmerising blonde captain Thora (Essy Persson). Crest soon reveals the nature of their mission from the far side of the galaxy: to find another compatible species and join together to create new generations for their home planet. Crest however is sick, and unable to sort out the repairs needed to their crashed ship. Will the fortuitous arrival of Perry Rhodan and his crew be the answer to their problems?
|Major Perry Rhodan (Lang Jeffries) with one of the robots. West German lobby card|
Once contact with these advanced aliens is made the plot really kicks into gear. I will not attempt to describe the rest of the film in as much detail. I just wanted to get the set up established. Essentially, the ship's doctor diagnoses leukaemia but is unable to treat him up there on the moon. They will need to return to Earth where a doctor based in Mombasa has a treatment that will cure him. This is where things take an unusual turn: for those expecting to watch a space adventure, prepare to be disappointed. They travel down to Earth in a smaller, emergency craft to the middle of the African wilderness, and the rest of the film takes place in Africa, effectively becoming a Eurospy adventure. Of course, I don't think this is a bad thing. I can watch Eurospy films all day, so for one film to combine that with a Gamma One-style space epic is fine by me. In fact this does have something in common with Snow Devils (La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin, 1967, Antonio Margheriti, Italy: Mercury Film International, Southern Cross Feature Film Company) in that regard, in that the audience were expecting another space-bound adventure, and instead found themselves firmly on Earth.
|Krest (John Karlsen), Thora (Essy Persson), Rhodan (Lang Jeffries)|
and Mike Bull (Luis Dávila). West German lobby card.
Their activities on Earth soon draw attention from both local military forces and the cunning Arkin, who wants to take control of the space ship for himself. Thora, despite seeing herself as superior, begins to develop a soft spot for Rhodan, and remains on the ship to help protect their mission whilst he and Mike head off to find Dr Haggard (Stefano Sibaldi). They face a perilous ordeal thanks to the traitor in their midst. Luckily they have a portable device which can create an invisible forcefield and also make reverse the effects of gravity; just what you need in a punch-up.
This film really does have a bit of everything, and packs a lot of action into its ninety minute running time, and is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable films I have seen in a long time. Having recently written extensively on I, a Woman (Jeg - en kvinde, 1965, Mac Ahlberg, Denmark/ Sweden, Europa Film/ Nordisk Film/ Novaris Film) in my PhD thesis, it was great to see its sexy Swedish star Essy Persson as an alien. With a wardrobe consisting of only tight-fitting flight suits, she struts around the ship communicating with her body language as well as her dialogue her distaste for humanity. Being an advanced species, she does not see anything wrong with changing her uniform behind a white screen whilst in conversation with Rhodan. This results in an image which seems inspired by Danger: Diabolik's (Diabolik, 1968, Mario Bava, Italy/ France: Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica/ Marianne Productions) shower scene.
|Thora (Essy Persson). Film still.|
The set design of the space craft is in keeping with other Italian science fiction films of the period, such as Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio, 1965, Mario Bava, Italy/ Spain: Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Italian International Film), Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim, France/ Italy: Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica/ Marianne Productions) and the aforementioned Gamma One films. It is brightly lit and with large round doors and a pop-art influenced colour palate. Perhaps in a nod to the more adult-oriented Barbarella, or to Essy Persson's most famous role in I, a Woman, there is what appears to be a large dildo on full display in Thora's bedroom, apparently on a pedestal.
|Thora (Essy Persson) and Perry Rhodan (Lang Jeffries) try not to make eye|
contact with the suspiciously phallic object in the foreground. West German lobby card.
Of course, it is the set design and special effects which are of the most interest if you are looking for the work of Antonio Margheriti in this film. Coming shortly after he had just completed the Gamma One quadrilogy, it is no wonder Margheriti was called on to help out with the special effects and model work on ..4 ..3 ..2 ..1 ...morte. There is a lot of excellent model work in the film, from the rocket flying towards the moon, which goes through two separate stages of separation, to the alien spacecraft flying over Africa (actually the Canary Islands). The special effects are occasionally, well, special, and reveal some budgetary limitations, most notably the laser effects: rather than create some sort of optical overlay, when the robots fire lasers from their eyes scratches appear to have been made directly into the film print. An optical overlay effect is used when Rhodan uses the anti-gravity device during a fight to make his assailant float around the room, and when depicting a glow around the rocket as it flies, but for the most part the effects are all achieved in camera using models, forced perspective and explosions. His lunar landscapes are excellent, and his spinning spacecraft through Earth's cloudy skies is well done, with the wires rarely showing.
|A nurse in a gas mask poses for the photographer next to the wheel of the lunar vehicle,|
something which does not happen in the film itself. West German lobby card.
Model work is also used to achieve the effect of a Land Rover flying through the air, once the space craft comes under attack after landing near Mombasa. Through excellent editing, we cut between the real and fake so smoothly that audiences would have been for the most part unaware of the trickery. Margheriti seems to have been having fun with this film. Perhaps it was a relief to just stay in the studio playing with models instead of being responsible for directing the film too. I hope he also created the head used when one of the humanoid robots demonstrates what he looks like under the helmet. He appears to stolen someone's set of false teeth.
|Even robots brush their teeth. Film still.|
From what I can tell, this is the only science fiction film directed by veteran Italian director Primo Zeglio, who would retire from the film business just over a year later. He had experience in westerns, historical dramas and peplum, but for some unknown reason only made the journey into space this once. Perhaps the current success of the genre encouraged him to give it a try, and he's done a great job The film is well paced, and has plenty of action to keep audiences interested. Combined with Margheriti's special effects, his direction is efficient if slightly pedestrian. There's no great experiments with camera work or Bava-inspired lighting, but it's still a fun film.
|The stills photographer captures the moment a robot's head blows off. West German lobby card.|
The casting reflects the mixed nature of the international co-production, with the Canadian Lang Jeffries (who spent most of his career in Europe) starring alongside the Argentinian Luis Dávila, the Swedish Essy Persson, the Spanish Daniel Martín, the German Joachim Hansen, the Italian Stefano Sibaldi and from New Zealand, John Karlsen. This latter actor, who surprisingly only passed away in July 2017 (at the age of 97!) might look familiar to anyone who has seen The She Beast (1966, Michael Reeves, UK? Italy: Euro American Pictures/ Leigh Production). Luis Dávila stood out for me, having stared in the crazy Eurospy film Ypotron (1966, Giorgio Stegani, Italy/ Spain France: Atlántida Films, Dorica Film, Euro International Film (EIA), which is another film from my PhD thesis.
With all those languages being spoken on set, as well as behind the camera, it is no wonder it was standard practice in Italy to loop all the dialogue in post-production. It certainly explains why the dialogue does not sync with the lips in the film, whether you watch it in English or Italian.
To say that Perry Rhodan is popular in Germany is an understatement; according to Wikipedia, over 2,900 novels have been published since 1961. Despite this the character has had a rough ride overseas, with only a fairly brief run of English translations instigated by Forrest Ackerman in 1969 lasting less than ten years. This film is the only feature attempt to put the character of Perry Rhodan on screen. I have been unable to ascertain whether ..4 ..3 ..2 ..1 ...morte was based on a specific novel, or whether the screenplay more loosly adapted elements from the world of Rhodan. Purists dislike this film because it is not close enough to the original character, which I think explains its low score on the IMDB, because if you're coming to this with no preconceptions you would score it a lot higher (I gave it an 8). Clearly the film was given a big release in Germany, hence all the best images are from West German lobby cards.
Never released in the UK, it did receive a belated release in the USA in 1969 and managed to score a positive review in Variety, where it was recommended for general audiences:
"It should do well as a programmer anywhere, as, though sheer nonsense, it's enjoyable... The dubbing is only fair, the special effects crude, the color uneven, but the very audaciousness of the admixture keeps the attention. Every plot twist adds to the enjoyableness and there's a fine rock score." ("Mission Stardust," Variety, 2 July 1969, p.26)
The score is great, with an opening theme which establishes the fun tone which continues through the rest of the film.
|Thora (Essy Persson) finds herself at the mercy of Arkin's gun-toting nurses. West German lobby card.|
The grey-market DVD which I have is taken from the German print, although it has an English or Italian dub. The picture quality is good for the most part, although some sequences have been cut in from a second or third-generation VHS in order to make it the most complete version available. It is the English version of this which can be found on YouTube. Incidentally, Antonio Margheriti's name does not appear in the credits of this German version. I assume this was for some sort of contractual reason. I can't spot any of his known pseudonyms in there either. I imagine his name was in the Italian credits at least.